Transforming lives is at the heart of the community conservancy model. As well as improving security and the management of rangelands and wildlife, conservancies provide their constituents with access to jobs, better services for community development and more business opportunities.
NRT's for-profit arm, NRT Trading, was established to identify, incubate, pilot and grow sustainable businesses within the NRT conservancies. But alongside this, NRT is supporting conservancies to develop partnerships with tourism operators, establish savings and credit cooperatives to encourage new businesses, and steer their own development projects.
“Many failures in development derive from externally driven or top down solutions. Too often you see projects that have been established with little community consultation, so when there are problems no incentive or capacity to fix them. The success of the community conservancy model is largely down to the fact that communities are taking charge of their own development. What we’re seeing with the Conservancy Livelihoods Fund is an end-to-end ownership of projects, from the democratic identification of problems and challenges, to the development, governance and maintenance of solutions.”
NRT Director of Sustainability, Mike Harrison.
The Conservancy Livelihoods Fund
Empowering communities to identify, plan and implement their own development programmes.
The Conservancy Livelihoods Fund (CLF) was established in 2015 to enable conservation activities to have more direct, tangible livelihoods benefits to conservancy members. Now, 71,000 people are feeling these benefits, from children in schools to women in new businesses.
The model is similar to any other grant proposal process. Conservancies must apply to NRT for CLF funding, with proposals that reflect community priorities and have been approved by respective boards. But it differs from a lot of other NGO funding in two main ways. The first is that it is only open to NRT member conservancies. Secondly, and most importantly, how it is spent it is entirely the community’s choice.
To date, the CLF has provided more than Ksh. 220 million (US$ 2.2 million) for 83 projects across 30 conservancies. Many projects have been used to leverage match-funding or technical support from county governments and other NGOs.
The top three sectors funded by CLF in 2018 were microfinance (57%), education (15%) and rangelands (11%).
Would you give a loan to an uneducated warrior with an AK-47? How about a woman who can't read or write?
In 2016, NRT and NRT Trading were supported by USAID to start an initiative focused on helping women and young men in conservancies to build sustainable businesses. The Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) provides relevant financial training and an accessible savings and loans scheme to young warriors at risk of being caught up in the front lines of conflict, and women who are frequently denied business and education opportunities by a patriarchal society.
The member-driven cooperative uses mobile money to make savings and credit accessible even when the nearest bank is hundreds of miles away, and is helping to create an environment for businesses to thrive in remote conservancies. After completing the necessary financial literacy training, members are required to pay a 500-shilling ($5) membership fee and are asked to invest in a $10 share capital with a minimum monthly deposit of $3. After a 6-month membership, the SACCO will loan members three times their savings with no interest.
Critical to its success is the fact that the SACCOs are run for and by the members. In the warrior (moran) groups, 'Star Morans' and 'Superstar Morans' are elected as leaders, and charged with debt collection, overall running of the SACCO, and raising financial awareness among their peers. These men must be good leaders and peace ambassadors, and have good business instincts. Not only is it turning illiterate young men into entrepreneurs, but the SACCO is also contributing to peace. Reports from the field suggest that warriors busying themselves with their businesses are not interested in taking part in conflict, despite peer pressure to do so.
The impact on women is significant too. Take mother-of-nine Dade Roba, who saw a gap in the market and built a maize mill business with a loan from Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy. As more women are empowered through SACCOs to earn their own income, there is an increasing awareness of their rights to participate in, and steer, activities in their conservancy.
There are currently 2,052 members in the SACCO - 63% of which are women. Ksh. 2.2 million (US$ 22,000) was invested in the SACCO in 2018, and members accrued savings of Ksh. 3.8 million (US$ 38,000) to support their families and businesses. Ksh. 2.1 million (US$ 21,000) was invested in business loans for 66 young warriors through the Nabulu Moran Empowerment Fund. Each year, a larger proportion of CLF funds are being dedicated by conservancies to starting SACCOs, after seeing the benefits of existing cooperatives.
Tourism is one of the most powerful ways for local communities to see tangible benefits from wildlife and habitat conservation. Not only do lodges, camps and adventure operators provide jobs to local people, but the revenue to conservancies from bed night and entry fees support core operations (such as ranger salaries and vehicle maintenance) and social projects for the entire community (such as education and health).
Tourism revenue in NRT conservancies in 2018 was the highest on record, with Ksh. 86 million (US$ 860,000) paid to conservancies in conservation and bednight fees. This is an increase of 31% from 2017.
Conservancies provide the right framework for investors to ensure they are working with, and have the support of, local communities. NRT supports conservancies to broker these agreements with tour operators, ensuring the needs and concerns of communities are met and that investments are sustainable and responsible.
There are currently six lodge operators in six NRT member conservancies.
Sarara. Namunyak Community Conservancy
Saruni Samburu. Kalama Community Conservancy
Il Ngwesi Lodge. Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Saruni Rhino. Sera Community Conservancy
Kitich Camp. Namunyak Community Conservancy
Tassia Lodge. Lekurruki Community Conservancy
Sasaab. Westgate Community Conservancy
As well as partnerships with lodges, conservancies receive tourism income from their own initiatives. Ngare Ndare Forest, for example, runs a very successful tourism outfit, offering guided hikes, a canopy walk and a campsite for visitors. Conservancies are also starting to establish basic campsites - for more information about travel and camping in NRT member conservancies, contact the tourism team.
NRT Trading is in the process of building a website to promote travel to north Kenya, and is campaigning to brand the region 'The Big North'. The website will aim to make it more accessible for independent adventurers and safari-seekers to explore community conservancies and their surrounds.
Educational disparity in urban and rural areas in Kenya is stark. While the adult literacy rate in Nairobi is 96.1% for example, it is just 8.2% in Garissa County, home to predominantly pastoral communities. It isn’t just that rural areas in Kenya lack the infrastructure to provide formal education; it is also that pastoral communities are semi nomadic, making it difficult for children to stay in one school for the required period of time. Furthermore, formal education has historically been a low priority for these groups, especially with regards to young girls.
Currently, there is little government funding to meet the needs of schools, and where there is funding for infrastructure, urban schools typically take priority. Teacher retention in rural schools is also a challenge, not least because accommodation facilities in those schools are lacking or non existent.
NRT launched the first phase of its Education Programme in 2012, working with nine community conservancies to identify beneficiary schools and help the selected schools assess and prioritise their needs. With funding from partners, NRT have been able to support 40 schools in the following areas:
Training for teachers
To date, over 6,000 students have benefited from the Education Programme, and schools have recorded a significant improvement in teacher to student contact hours, student enrolment and attendance and graduation into the next grade. Furthermore, providing access to education through the community conservancy model makes a tangible link between improved livelihoods and wildlife and habitat conservation, increasing local support for conservancy operations.
NRT works closely with local government and leadership throughout the process. The conservancy board and management oversee the day to day supervision of projects, while NRT manage the finances, quality control, construction plans, compliance, technical supervision and monitoring and evaluation.